As Allderdice High School's cross country coach for 30 years, Ed Flynn has seen the best the City League has to offer in the fall sport since the 1980s, and he is convinced that 16-year-old Dragons standout Ean DiSilvio is one of the best to compete for league school.
"Two things make him tough," Flynn said. "He has strong family support, and he's a wrestler. He was a wrestler before he got into cross country, and his upper-body strength really helps him. His dad has been to our meets in Erie and Boardman, Ohio, and his mom comes to as many races as she can."
DiSilvio has run quality times against quality competition. He won the individual title at the Erie McDowell Invitational on Sept. 3 with a time of 16 minutes, 10 seconds for the 5-kilometer distance, then took top honors at the Boardman Spartan Invitational in the Division 2 class Sept. 17 with a time of 16:06.90, less than one second off the Division 2 course record of 16:06.10. His time would have placed him seventh in the Division 1 race, just behind North Allegheny senior standout Logan Steiner, who placed sixth in 16:04.69. This past weekend DiSilvio placed second at the Abe Everhart Invitational in Uniontown with a time of 17:15.9.
DiSilvio and Steiner have crossed paths before. A week before the Boardman meet, Steiner placed fifth at the Red, White & Blue Classic at Schenley Park with a time of 15:50, while DiSilvio was six seconds behind.
Four other runners from WPIAL schools finished ahead of DiSilvio at the Red, White & Blue: Alex Moran of Mt. Lebanon (15:30), Baldwin's Andrew Kuchta (15:31), Quaker Valley's L.J. Westwood (15:50) and Kiski Area's Brent Kennedy (15:51).
DiSilvio's effort impresses Flynn.
"He's been in four invitationals, and he's won two of them," the Dragons coach said.
DiSilvio's teammates also have run well. Allderdice placed 12th out of 58 teams at the Red, White & Blue meet and fifth out of 42 teams at Boardman. The Dragons won the 24-team Everhart Invitational.
DiSilvio likely will see some -- if not all -- of these WPIAL athletes at the Central Catholic Invitational Saturday afternoon at the Schenley Park course where he and his Allderdice teammates compete in weekly meets against other City League schools.
The course the athletes run for the Central Catholic meet differs slightly from the one used for the Red, White & Blue Classic. But that's secondary to DiSilvio, who relishes the opportunity to compete against WPIAL athletes.
"It motivates me very much," said DiSilvio, who turned 16 just two months ago. "We don't have the nice facilities or the amenities that come with the suburban schools. There's always a motivation to beat them, so I always try to do my best."
Flynn said DiSilvio will run whatever race he needs to run to be most effective.
"If he needs to trail the front-runner, then that's what he will do," Flynn said. "There isn't much competition in the City League, so he's always going to be in front. In the invitational meets, he still is learning about himself and what he needs to do. With his strength, he does a very good job at the end of a race."
When cross country season ends, DiSilvio will continue to run in the winter to maintain conditioning for the Dragons wrestling team. He'll compete at either 132 or 138 pounds.
DiSilvio averages between 35 and 40 miles a week. Most of his distance training takes place on Sunday and Monday when he runs about 8 miles each day. Tuesdays are dedicated to five or six 1-mile repeats with a 6-mile run on Wednesday. Following today's race against City League competition, he and his teammates will warm up, run six 200-meter dashes and stretch out before hitting the road for an invitational race on Saturday.
His progression as a quality distance runner has been gradual. He improved his top cross country time for a 5K race from 17:30 as a freshman to 16:30 a year ago. He has broken through the 16-minuter barrier and hopes for even better times as the season progresses.
"I'd like to place in the top 15 at the [PIAA championship] meet and try for a state championship when I'm a senior," said DiSilvio, who has his eye on a career in medicine. "I'll get to that when I get there."